Vision Casting: How to handle a changing church

May 9th, 2017

Change is the one constant in our universe. Before we can tackle how to handle a changing church we first have to understand why change happens.

In organizational development theory, there is an oft-quoted formula related to dealing with change. Change only occurs when D x V x F > R

  • D = Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • V = Vision of what is possible in the future
  • F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision

If the product of these three factors is greater than R (resistance) then change is possible. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one of the factors is absent (zero) then the product will be zero or lower and not capable of overcoming the resistance. In more simple terms, in order to effectively respond to change or to change a church that is stuck, someone has to have a vision for what the future will look like and the members of the church have a desire to change.

Here are three key things to understand about change:

It’s natural.

Change is a natural part of the lifecycle of things, especially growth. If you are not changing then you are dying. Change does not have to be a negative thing. As we grow and mature in our lives and in our work roles, we change. Shouldn’t the church changes as well? The church needs to respond and be relevant to an every changing world. Not that the gospel message changes, but even Jesus used parables that related to the culture of the people he was addressing.

Tip: People consume information differently, the church can respond by using social media and the internet to share the gospel or to announce church events. Get an app, push information out.


Over the years I spent in ministry, I have learned one thing, someone is always in charge. It might not be the person with the title, but there is an influence that propels any change. Someone is leading the change and the environment is receptive to the change. In youth ministry, it could be a popular kid or it could be an involved parent. To use a sport’s metaphor, leadership has the ability to “move the chains” or “motivate the team.”

Tip: Know who the leaders and influencers are that pushing the change. Understand their needs and motivation. This will help you address change in positive ways.


Change happens because people either don’t like what is happening or they are excited about what is happening and feel like things could be even greater. Either way, there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. This goes back to change is natural for any growing organization. Not too many people want to get stuck in the same routine day after day. Change is just an opportunity to stay relevant.

Tip: Leaders can control dissatisfaction to a degree. Church should not be boring. Your church should move from challenge to challenge, so that the sense of the status quo never sets in. Churches can change up the pace, be unpredictable at times, but also practice Sabbath principles. People need a break from ministry programming.

Understand changing a church takes time, just like the change process in any institution. You can’t always shock the system and be where you need to be overnight.

Here are 5 more tips to help you increase your chance of decreasing resistance and positively dealing with change.

1. Change our die!

Create a sense of urgency so that the church members and leaders understand why they must change as the church and society changes around them. In the King James’ version of the Bible, Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Have a clear vision for addressing change. Sometimes the message is as simple as, “change or die.”

2. Tap into the wisdom of the crowd.

As leaders we don’t always have all the answers. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” There are times when church leaders are afraid to ask for help or to talk to their members. Sometimes insecure leaders are afraid to ask for input. I say, the smart leader gets the right people in the room when tough decisions need to be made. This also creates buy-in from people who are invested in the ministry.

3. Take risks.

Safety and Christianity should be antonyms. We need to make bold decisions as Christian leaders. We need to take risks when it comes to sharing the gospel and making disciples. It is okay to be uncomfortable with change, but we should not fear it. The task before us has always been great. In Matthew 19:25-26, even the disciples wondered if anyone could be saved. Jesus replied to them, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Church leaders need to remember that God gives us a distinct advantage when we are in His will.

4. Understand the times.

Knowledge is power when dealing with change and the challenges of life. Sometimes churches and leaders get old and set in their ways. They can’t respond to change because they are too far behind the times. Church leaders need to keep up with the world, not to compromise their values, but to see the needs in order to be able to respond quickly and appropriately. When David gathered his thousands of warriors to go into battle, 200 people stood out. It wasn’t because of their great strength or manly might. The Bible says they stood out because, “All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” 1 Chronicle 12:32.

5. Finally, Trust God!

That is the message that Peter received when he walked on water. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Matthew 14:30-31. During times of change we tend to focus on our circumstance instead of Jesus.

Bottom line, the church needs to embrace change and quickly respond in a way that continues to put the good news in front of people. But we can also cast a vision and lead the way in a world that will always need the hope and love that Christ provides.

Glen Guyton is the Chief Operating Officer for Mennonite Church USA, but got his start in youth ministry. He is an advocate for bringing intercultural competency and innovative leadership practices to ministry so that people can find practical and meaningful ways to engage the world. You can connect with Glen on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, TWITTERLINKEDIN, his BLOG, EMAIL or WEBSITE.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.